I recall doing junket interviews for Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day back in 2008, and not completely understanding the It-girl allure of Amy Adams. I sensed a pleasant girl-next door vibe and little else at the time. There was none of the Maxim pop we’ve come to appreciate in Margot Robbie, the lethal intensity of Rooney Mara, or even the serious actress aura of Jessica Chastain. I wasn’t even sure I was waiting for it to come.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, she punched me in the gut with a stereotype-busting turn in The Fighter, a raw trashy around the Boston way kind of girl who exuded a ferocious sensuality. I finally saw something beneath the placid good-girl facade and it was explosive. To be honest, if I had been paying more attention, I would have noticed the brittle anger in Junebug (2006) and anxiety blooming into self-assurance in Doubt (2009), but I couldn’t recognize the emotional forest because I was staring too hard at one empty patch of the landscape.
Tom Ford taps into that special something once again in Adams with Nocturnal Animals, his stylish homage to David Lynch (Blue Velvet) and Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) that without a doubt is still very much a Tom Ford film (such an amazing signature to be so clearly defined after only two features). He presents Adams as an artistic brand occupying a pop world that is deliciously post-real world in every way. She is cold and bored with the image and the artificiality of it all, tired of playing this assumed role.
But when she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) and begins reading it, it comes alive in her imagination and right before our eyes. This fictional realm, where Adams actually doesn’t appear (in the flesh), is a return of sorts to the seedy grit of The Fighter, and it feels like the perfect rendering of an astral projection suited to Adams. Ford triangulates her in this blank space, pinning a marker in the territory like a GPS locator. And with pinpoint accuracy, he is right. Adams is right there in this fever-dream of the past, the fiction, and the truths we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves.
TIFF wouldn’t be TIFF without a Villeneuve film, and Arrival boasts the second sighting of Adams, as a grieving linguist enlisted to join a select team seeking to communicate with aliens before humanity turns on itself in the face of this close encounter. The darkness Adams exudes here is more melancholy, an adult pain caused by the loss of a child, and maybe a husband. It is wordless, seemingly like the language of the visitors, a code that only she can crack.
You will notice that for a movie about aliens and first contact, there’s no discussion of the frenzied action hysterics geared towards the jittery CGI junkies. Arrival traverses the emotional plains, the psychological byways of the heart and mind sifting trying to find through time and space to the fragile safety of home. The action hinges on learning and acceptance.
There is much to discuss, as Arrival nears its release date, but when paired with Nocturnal Animals, this double feature conveyed the rich evolution of Amy Adams and bore witness to the now undeniable star quality of her presence. She is a room with many views.